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Neighbors Save Garden Grove Family From Flames

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Two Garden Grove men were hailed as heroes Thursday after they rushed to save a woman and her six children from their burning home.

Tan Dinh was taking an evening stroll Wednesday when he saw smoke and realized a house on Cardinal Avenue was on fire. He ran to the house and knocked furiously on a window.

Inside, Maureen Castillo and her children, ages 3 to 9, were watching television shortly before 9 p.m., unaware that flames were spreading rapidly from the garage to the house. Castillo said that when she first heard the noise, she thought intruders were trying to break in, and she considered locking herself and her family inside. But Dinh finally persuaded her to open the window.

“If it wasn’t for this gentleman, . . . I would have been burning up with my kids,” Castillo said.

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Smoke detectors inside the modest house did not go off.

“She didn’t know her house was on fire,” Dinh said. “I yelled, ‘Fire, fire, get out, please.’ She got scared, but I had no choice.”

Dinh, 41, lifted each child and then Castillo through the window to safety. Then he alerted neighbors, who called 911. Firefighters arrived quickly, but not in time to save five puppies trapped inside the garage.

Firefighters managed to extinguish the fire in about 20 minutes, Battalion Chief David Barlag said. He estimated damage to the home at $25,000.

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Another neighbor saw the flames and rushed to help, though the Castillo family was safe by that time. Lemont Larkins, 37, who was cleaning his backyard, saw the thick smoke and scaled a 5-foot-tall wall between the two houses. His children begged him not to go near the fire, but he went anyway. “The only thing I could think was, ‘I got to get over there,’ ” Larkins said. “I’ve got to help these people.”

Knowing young children lived there, he used his hands to smash a window. “I was hollering, ‘Anybody in there? There’s a fire.’ ”

Firefighters fought the flames as the rescuers, Castillo and her children, clad in their pajamas, looked on.

Red Cross volunteers took the family to a hotel.

“These people really didn’t have much, and it’s the holidays,” said Larkins, who was treated at the scene for cuts to his wrists. “It’s really, really sad.”

Fire officials are investigating the cause of the blaze.


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